Interview with Read Women Contributor, Karyna McGlynn

In our most recent installment of the Locked Horn Press Spotlight, LHP editor Carly Joy Miller talks to the brilliantly honest, and hilarious, Karyna McGlynn about redemption and poetry, participating in Read Women, what she's working on, and what gets her horns locking. Want to know if Karyna McGlynn ever judges a book by its cover? Want to know about her “shameless concept album,” and what the "dilapidated mansion of [her] poetry is built upon?” Well, read on, dear friends...

CJM: When we put together Read Women, I thought of you immediately—I think because your first collection, I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl’s title poem dealt so much with confronting the speaker’s past-self/girlhood along with confronting her mother, another female presence. What was your reaction when you read Read Women? And do you think gender influences your poetry, in general? And why, or why not?

KM: I’m flattered that you thought of me! It’s such an honor to be in the company of all these amazing ladies. When I first read the anthology, my reaction was visceral—much like when I first read the Gurlesque anthology Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum put together a few years ago. I thought, where has this been? Something positively electric happens when you put a whole bunch of lady poets between the covers.  And it’s not a litany of gross-sounding “women’s issues.” It’s a pop & sizzle in the diction, a syntax that is both alert & sinuous, a bestudded embrace of conflict, a wry hilarity that I recognize in my gut.

If I said gender didn’t influence my poetry, I would be a huge liar—hence, a hypocrite, since I constantly espouse my belief that good poetry is about “getting all the lies out” (even when making stuff up). Also, everyone would laugh at me, because it’s patently obvious that gender is the bedrock that the dilapidated mansion of my poetry is built upon. The “why” is more difficult. Perhaps because I’ve never felt entirely comfortable in my own skin. Perhaps because language is gendered and inescapable. Perhaps because drag queens played a pivotal role in my early life, and I came to see womanhood as a type of performance that was both glamorous and doomed. It certainly doesn’t help (or hurt) that I watch a ton of old movies and am constantly gnawing happily on the tendon of gender stereotypes: the long-suffering wife, the social climber, the sex pot, the crazy spinster, the femme fatale, the fast-talking girl reporter, the precocious little sister, the hysterical mother, the virginal ingénue, the ditzy dame, and so on. My absolute favorite actress has always been Katherine Hepburn, and I think that speaks volumes, so let’s leave it there.

CJM: Given the concept of what LHP is—exploring the spaces where conflict exists—what are the issues that you like to “lock horns” with?

KM: As you already mentioned, I like to lock horns with my past and my past selves. I also take issue with the notion that women aren’t funny, and that their attempts at humor are often seen as histrionic. I become both angry and mystified when critics imply that performance and/or imagery are the lowest rungs on the poetic totem pole (?!). Finally, I become preternaturally perturbed when someone implies that my poetry has nothing uplifting or joyful or redemptive about it. Sometimes I point them to Bly’s “Warning to the Reader,” but I always wonder: does this person not know what redemption looks like? It’s fraught and complex; it happens in process. The sublimity is often packed in the sinews of the language. The joy is in the mouth-feel, the unpacking, the recognition of truth.

CJM: As a writer, reader, and editor, what do you look for in poetry? What surprises or enchants you? And would you also mind sharing a favorite book or two that you’ve read in the last two months?

KM: I look for great titles, opening lines, and (I’m slightly ashamed to admit this, but, in the case of books...) covers. After all, those things serve as advertisements in a sea of poetry and I need an excuse to start reading in the first place! I look for a sophisticated understanding of grammar and syntax (even if all those rules are being bent or discarded in the poems themselves). I look for poems that scare me, for poems that constantly seem on the verge of failing but somehow pull it off (thrilling!), and for poems that create intimacy via truthfulness (or the illusion thereof) so that I feel like the poet and I are getting drunk together and they’re whispering secrets in my ear. Obviously I look for imagery and metaphors that make me jealous and don’t feel belabored. I look for humor and I look for humanity. I look for vulnerability & vigor, invitation & invective, enjambment & jouissance. I want the poem to remind me of dreams I was too lazy to write about. I want to be seduced & slipped into the surreal without realizing what’s happened to me. I want to be intoxicated, and I want to hear the poem in my head. The ultimate mark of any poem’s success for me is if I want to read it aloud to people at the next available opportunity.

The books that embody these things for me right now are Lo Kwa Mei-En’s Yearling, Diane Seuss’s Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Lucky Fish, Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things,  Sally Wen Mao’s Mad Honey Symposium, Robyn Schiff’s Revolver, and Rebecca Hazelton’s Vow. I can’t recommend these books enough.

CJM: How are your current projects, Hothouse and A Week of Kindness, building on, or moving away from, I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, and your chapbooks, Alabama Steve and Scopionica?

KM: Both Hothouse and A Week of Kindness represent opposite ends of the same spectrum for me. Hothouse borrows Alabama Steve’s humor and pairs it with many of 1994’s themes, but I think it ended up being an easier read than both. I wasn’t playing nearly as much with disruptions in form and narrative. The poems employ relatively standard syntax and form. They’re haunted, yes, but in more of a realistic, friendly way that is actually confessional as opposed to the performance of the confessional, but that’s perhaps a bit misleading because Hothouse deals very directly with my tendency toward performativity: gender as performance, masking as revelation, the domestic as a theatrical set, etc.

On the other hand, A Week of Kindness is anything but naturalistic. It’s a book-length poem based on Max Ernst’s surrealistic novel-in-collage, Une Semaine de Bonté, and you could say it takes my obsession with the female gothic to the extreme. I basically made a “narrative” out of Ernst’s collages where the woman in every plate is always the same woman:  my narrator. It’s a baroque, formally complex, anachronistic, ekphrastic Künstlerroman. How off-putting does that sound?! It’s overwhelming, for sure, but I also employ a lot of humor and (hopefully) syntactical delight. Ernst’s book is so well- constructed in terms of its symbolism, motifs, and organizing principles, that, despite the surrealism of the “narrative,” I think there’s a strong intuitive spine and incantatory nature to the whole spectacle that keeps it from becoming a bore. At least for some readers; I certainly don’t think this book is for everybody. For example, it’s going to take a very particular type of press to want to publish something like this. Ideally, I want the book to appear in five separate volumes (or color-coded chapbooks) divided into days of the week the way Ernst’s “novel” originally appeared. And, yeah, I want them to be letterpress. It’s a shameless concept album, so I might as well own it!


Karyna McGlynn is the author of Hothouse (Sarabande  Books, 2017), I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl (Sarabande Books, 2009), and three chapbooks: The 9-Day Queen Gets Lost on Her Way to the Execution (Willow Springs Editions, 2016), Alabama Steve (Sundress, 2014), and Scorpionica (New Michigan Press, 2007). Her poems have recently appeared in The Kenyon Review, PloughsharesBlack Warrior Review, AGNI, Ninth Letter, and The Academy of American Poet’s Poem-A-Day. Karyna’s honors include the Hopwood Award, the Verlaine Prize, and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. She recently received her PhD from the University of Houston, where she was the Managing Editor of Gulf Coast. She is currently the Diane Middlebrook Fellow in Poetry at the University of Wisconsin where she serves as the Senior Poetry Editor for Devil’s Lake.